What to do when your baby has a fever

Mom holding sick baby with fever

Nothing can fully describe the feeling of dread and panic that you feel the first time your baby has a fever. Unfortunately, although it may be a first for you, it’s most certainly not going to be the last. No child is going to grow up without ever getting sick.

As much as parents fear fevers, they are a normal part of the body’s immune reaction. By raising its temperature the body makes it more difficult for harmful bacteria and viruses to attack, and it also activates all its own fighting responses.

From this viewpoint, when your baby has a fever is actually a good thing and you should not immediately aim to break it with medication.

Below more information on how to cope with fever in babies, and when to seek medical assistance.

What do do when your baby has a fever

Step 1: Don’t guess your baby’s temperature

If you suspect a fever you have to test your baby’s temperature. Often parents only guess, and many do not even own a thermometer. How high the temperature is can give a clue to the type of infection (viral or bacterial) and will help you to distinguish fussiness and mild illness from a more serious infection. You also need to monitor temperature before and after medication to see if it was effective.

It’s important to choose the correct thermometer, as with digital thermometers a poor quality product will give inaccurate readings.

Many parents still use underarm thermometers, and though they may work well for older children they are not ideal for babies. You need to keep it in place for around 3 minutes in order to get a correct reading. Very few little ones will lie still this long, and if baby is asleep it may very well wake him up. It also needs to be in direct contact with baby’s skin, and most small babies have a hollow in the armpit which makes this difficult. Therefore the reading may well show a lower temperature than baby really has.

Invest in a good quality ear or forehead thermometer. Our BabyWombWorld 3-in-1 Dual Infrared Ear and Forehead Thermometer actually does both! You can have an accurate reading in seconds, without even waking baby if asleep. It also has a fever alarm to alert you if the temperature is indeed high.

Step 2: Is it really fever?

A temperature of 38 °C and above is considered to be a fever. If baby feels warm but the temperature is lower than this, it may just be because he is overdressed or because the outside temperature is higher.

Step 3: What to do when you baby really has a fever

  1. The primary goal is to make baby feel more comfortable, rather than to restore the body temperature to normal ranges. If baby is playing and eating or drinking well it is usually not serious.
  2. Let baby rest or play quietly in a cool area.
  3. Take of baby’s clothes and put on a fan in the room.
  4. Wipe baby’s body with a cool cloth.
  5. If the temperature is higher than 38 °C or if you can see that baby is really not feeling well you can administer medication.
  6. The safest medication to use for fever is Paracetamol (like Panado, Calpol or Empaped suppositories). Work out the correct dosage based on baby’s weight. Some doctors may prescribe Ibuprofen (like Neurofen) as well. Never give Aspirin to babies/children as this may be dangerous.

Step 4: What not to do

  1. It is no longer recommended to put baby in a cold bath to reduce body temperature.
  2. Don’t wake your baby up to administer fever medication.

Step 5: When to see your doctor?

The American Academy of Paediatrics suggests the following temperatures as a guideline for concern. Reading this you will understand why accurate temperature measurements are so important.

  1. Any fever in babies under 3 months of age.
  2. If your baby is between 3 and 6 months old, see a doctor if a fever is higher than 38.3°C.
  3. In babies older than 6 months you should be concerned if a fever rises above 39.4°C

Also contact your doctor when your baby has a fever if:

  • Baby seems really sick or in pain.
  • Your baby has a fever that persists for longer than 24 hours.
  • You are not able to get baby’s temperature down despite giving medication (but make sure you are calculating the dosage correctly).
  • If baby has a skin rash, which may be a concern if coupled with a fever.
  • If baby is refusing fluids or has less wet nappies than usualy.
  • If baby has diarrhoea or vomiting.
  • If baby has difficulty breathing or is breathing faster than usual, or if baby has a bad cough.

Christine Klynhans is a midwife and lactation consultant with a firm believe that gentle parenting can change the world. She has worked in midwifery since competing her B.Cur nursing degree in 2004, and has a special passion for education and for writing. She currently works in a well-baby clinic and give antenatal classes and breastfeeding support. She enjoys working with parents of babies and toddlers, aiming to help them find gentle solutions to their parenting problems and assisting them in incorporating healthy habits and natural health alternatives into their daily lives.

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